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Critical Consensus: Christy Lemire and Claudia Puig On 'Looper,' Sci Fi Movies and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

By Christy Lemire, Eric Kohn and Claudia Puig | Indiewire September 26, 2012 at 10:44AM

Editor’s note: Critical Consensus is a biweekly feature in which two critics from Indiewire’s Criticwire network discuss new releases with Indiewire’s chief film critic, Eric Kohn. Here, AP film critic Christy Lemire and USA Today's Claudia Puig discuss Rian Johnson's "Looper" and the unique career trajectory of its star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The movie opens Friday.
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Rian Johnson (right), on the set of "Looper."
Rian Johnson (right), on the set of "Looper."

Science fiction movies on a larger scale generally manifest in the action-horror vein, like "Prometheus." But "Looper" is getting a pretty wide release. Is there a dearth of great sci-fi movies these days? And if so, does "Looper" address the problem?

PUIG: You're probably right. I don't have a lot of expertise in the genre, but I kept comparing it to "Inception" and even "Memento," both heady sci-fi movies, and I think fans of those films will like this one as well.

LEMIRE: This kind of movie, an original, cerebral time travel movie, does exist in smaller packages. Look at something like "Safety Not Guaranteed," which Claudia and I saw together and loved.

PUIG: That's a really good example. With "Safety Not Guaranteed," those who saw it loved it. That's a really low budget example. "Looper" is like a middle level example and "Inception" would be a bigger example.

Both of you noted that "Looper" benefits from strong characters, which obviously owes something to the performances. What do you make of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's progress up until this point? Is this a transitional moment for him?

PUIG: He's moving more and more into this area. You think of "(500) Days of Summer" and other movies where he's playing a kind of quirky guy in a romantic comedy. But then you have "Premium Rush," "Looper" and, of course, "The Dark Knight Rises," where you can see him moving in an action direction. He's proving that he can do many things and I think he's a big talent.

And what do you make of Bruce Willis in this movie?

PUIG: Bruce Willis has carved out his niche as an action star, but now you see him doing things like the Wes Anderson movie "Moonrise Kingdom." Whereas he was once one kind of actor, he's now expanding in his later years, while Gordon-Levitt seems to be doing it early on.

Bruce Willis Looper

LEMIRE: Willis can do the action star stuff in his sleep. I like the vulnerability, world-weariness and romanticism of his character in "Looper," and thus the happiness that he fights for that makes him very appealing here. Gordon-Levitt can do every genre and he's still hugely likable, but this is his most flawed and darkest character yet. You could compare it to "Mysterious Skin." He's a criminal who's inherently selfish and willing to sell his friends out for money. He's a bad guy, but he's so appealing even when he's wearing a Bruce Willis prosthetic nose and contact lenses.

When I was at South by Southwest a few years ago, when "Disturbia" was coming out, I was interviewing Shia LaBeouf on a patio at the Four Seasons. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was at another table promoting another movie. It's interesting to see where those two actors have gone since then. LaBeouf was about to be in the latest Indiana Jones movie and was going to do a bunch of other big movies. Gordon-Levitt chose smaller, weirder stuff and stayed really eclectic. It's interesting to see how they're switching lanes -- Gordon-Levitt is in these bigger blockbuster movies and LaBeouf is trying to prove he can act.

PUIG: Right, with "Lawless" and things like that. There was a point with "Disturbia" where it looked like he was going to be the next Tom Hanks, a guy with real likability, and I don't know exactly where that has gone but it hasn't flourished. You take someone like Gordon-Levitt -- everybody likes him even in less likable roles. He's going to have a long future. As for Willis, it's nice to see him do smaller character parts. I do see more vulnerability here. My daughter, who's 22, sees him as an old man (except that his skin looks good). But when he goes in with guns blazing, she was struck by how good he came off doing that, unlike the cast of "The Expendables."

We're gearing up for awards season, and so far, "Looper" hasn't been a big part of the discussion. Do you either of you think it has a shot at entering into that game?

LEMIRE: It's possible. There's a slot in the Best Picture category that already exists for the heady sci-fi movie.

PUIG: Especially if you have eight or 10 slots, like the Academy Awards do.

LEMIRE: It may have a shot at Best Original Screenplay. We need to time travel to the future to find out if it's really possible.

This article is related to: Reviews, Critical Consensus, Looper, Rian Johnson, Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Brothers Bloom, time travel movies, Safety Not Guaranteed